Hardwired Art

I wrote in a previous blog post that, “I believe humans are hardwired for storytelling. Narrative is innate in our brains. Something resonates when we hear and read stories.” I want to expand upon this idea.

In the final chapters of Steven Pinker’s The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature, he writes:

“Art is in our nature—in the blood and in the bone, as people used to say; in the brain and in the genes, as we might say today. In all societies people dance, sing, decorate surfaces, and tell and act out stories.”

This floored me. Every society—rich and poor, great or lowly, ancient or modern, developed or undeveloped—has or had art. This is a wild idea, because appreciating or creating art doesn’t put food in our stomachs or quench our thirst. It doesn’t keep us living, yet it is a universal human trait.

It’s important to put this into the context of our history over the last few thousand years. Child mortality within five years was astronomically high. Mothers weren’t better off. Diseases we can now vaccinate away were scourges. And if disease did not kill someone, starvation might. Life was about survival.

But art, which has no value for survival, still existed. People still told stories and drew and painted and wrote.

There is debate on the exact reason why. Steven Pinker says we evolved as creators. Others say we are made in God’s image, and so we are creators like Him. It doesn’t matter for the sake of what I’m saying here. Regardless, it is ingrained deep into who we are.

It is why we are thrilled sitting in a movie theater or at home, absorbing a narrative, on the edge of our seats. It’s why we are struck with awe at a beautiful, or even ugly, painting. This ingrained nature is why we lay in bed well past our bedtimes because we need to get through one more chapter of a book. It’s because art speaks to something deep within our chests, hitting the core of who we are, like a giant mallet hitting a gong. It reverberates and  echoes, raises our hairs, challenges and satisfies us.

It connects to what makes us human. It makes life a little more worth living.

What I’m reading right now:

The Given Day by Dennis Lehane

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